Fresh off of his debut as an actor in VH1’s The Breaks, rapper and radio personality Torae today [January 15, 2016], releases his latest project, Entitled.
The Coney Island native dropped a full length album last year, collaborating with Skyzoo. He’s since kept busy in the studio readying his solo work, as well as hosting duties with SiriusXM’s Hip Hop Nation channel six days a week.
Entitled is his first solo project in four years, and lyrically explores the world that inspired the album in several ways conceptually throughout the 16-track project.
Torae’s album is solid from top to bottom and is pieced together with production from Jahlil Beats, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Khrysis, Nottz and Apollo Brown. Vocally, guests were carefully selected with Saul Williams and Pharaohe Monch to help round out the project.
With two of the tracks, “Get Down” and “Let ‘Em Know” receiving the visual treatment thus far, Torae expresses the ways in which he is entitled to keep pushing forward, with his passion for Hip Hop propelling his career forward no matter what happens.
“I ain’t here for playing around, I wear the crown,” he raps on “Crown,” which features 3D Na’tee and is one of many lines that showcase how Tor isn’t going anywhere but onward and upward.
While crafting the album wasn’t a conscious objective, Torae’s tracks came together organically and before he knew it, he already had six or seven tracks recorded and took things from there. We got up with Tor in advance of his release to talk about the album, which saw a successful boost from Kickstarter, how he got connected with Saul Williams and what’s up next for 2016.
The Source: Besides the appeal of financial support, what made you decide to embrace Kickstarter as a platform for this project? Since you met your backing goal, we’re curious, how those Skype sessions and in-home listening sessions went, and if people got really creative with the “create your own reward” option.
Torae: In all honesty, the financial support wasn’t a big factor. I could’ve just as easily, or perhaps even easier, just signed with an indie label and got that as an advance. For me, the Kickstarter was about analytics. Seeing what level of support each backer would choose. There’s the “I’m just going to buy the album” supporter at $10 versus the “come to my home” supporter at $500+. Once you can separate who’s who, you can know how to market to them. Of course, the $10,000 was great, but I had put triple that into the album before we launched the Kickstarter campaign.
As far as the Skype sessions, I still have some to go, but they’ve been cool thus far. For the home listening party, we made it a real party. Balloons, pizza, vodka, the whole deal. That was a lot of fun for me. Hopefully Hank and his homies enjoyed it as well. The ‘create your own’ rewards ideas were pretty civil overall. I got a couple indecent proposals I had to respectfully decline.
Do you think entitlement in rap these days is directly related to artists having access to outlets/artists through social media? Did experiencing entitlement inspire you to want to change the connotation of the word, if so how? Do you have any advice to upcoming artists hoping to spread their music in 2016?
I think, as people, we all have a certain sense of entitlement. Even me, I felt like just because I could rap and because I was a good person the Hip Hop Gods would shine a light on me and I would become a huge success. Not to say I wasn’t working, but overall I felt like it was owed to me to make it. That’s not the case – you have to work hard and that’s still no guarantee you’re going to be a big star. There are so many different variables you have to take into account so for me I had to corral my entitlement and just do me. On the flip, there are some things we as a people are all entitled to and I touch on some of that as well on the album, showing that the word entitled doesn’t necessarily have to have a negative connotation.
As far as advice, I’d say be hard-working, be humble and study those that came before you. Learn from their triumphs and mistakes.
Did you have a different approach working with each different producer, or was the creative process relatively organic, considering there are some you have worked with for years, i.e. DJ Premier?
The producers I worked with on Entitled all came about organically. The only person that was completely new was Denaun Porter, so overall the general rapport and relationship was there. I tried to be in the studio together as much as possible and if that wasn’t the case, I made sure there was a lot of communication back and forth so our collaboration would be the best it could be.
How did you get connected with Saul Williams? He, like you, has had roughly four years in between officially releasing musical projects, with some features mixed in during that time. With that small hiatus in mind, what was it like getting him into the studio again?
I’m so excited and greatly humbled to have Saul Williams on the project. The way we actually connected was through my show on SiriusXM. I had him on as a guest around the time his play Holler If You Hear Me was on Broadway. He came up to the show to do an interview and one of the first things he said to me was he liked the project I had out at the time, Barrel Brothers with Skyzoo. Naturally I was blown away by that, so we kept in touch from then on. When it was album time, I thought Saul would be an amazing addition to it and I had been thinking of having a few spoken word pieces on it, so who better than Saul. He really sets the tone for what the overall album is about. You might miss it initially, but the more you live with the album and replay the more you get it.
With the recent debut airing of The Breaks on VH1, how has the feedback been? What ran through your mind when you first watched the final product? Did preparing for the role influence any of the tracks on Entitled?
The feedback on The Breaks has been really great. It was an honor to be featured in such an amazing project. I think everyone involved did a phenomenal job, cast, crew, everyone. I actually got to watch it with everyone at a special dinner in Harlem before it aired. That was pretty cool; we were all clapping and shouting for each other while we viewed it.
I didn’t really need to prepare so much for the role, I play an emcee, I also emcee in real life, so it was more so getting the body language and facial expressions down. Being on set with Mack [Wilds], Antoine [Harris] and Afton [Williamson]; they’re all professionals so they made it really easy.
What’s up next for 2016? Do you have any intentions/mantras to go with this year?
What’s next for 2016, only God knows. Every year, I progress so much I don’t even know what to expect, so I just stay ready and stay prayed up. It’s already off to a great start though with The Breaks airing, Entitled dropping and talking with The Source.
Photo: Robert Adam Mayer